Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
by Dana Aronson
“Venus owns this herb and it is under Leo. There is no better herb to take melancholy vapors from the heart…and makes a merry, cheerful soul.” -Nicholas Culpepper
Motherwort’s latin name, Leonurus cardiaca, is depicted from the Greek word leon (lion), ouros (tail), and cardiaca, giving meaning to the heart. This sheds light to the common name, Lion’s Heart. In Europe, the name “motherwort,” has a literal meaning of “mother-herb.” With both of these names, this gives a small peak into the medical properties of this plant we know as Motherwort.
Common Names: Motherwort, Lion’s Ear, Lion’s Heart, Heartwort
Latin Name: Leonurus cardiaca
Plant Family: Labiatae
Botany: Motherwort is a common perennial herb that grows 5-10 feet tall. The leaves grow opposite of each other and the cluster of pink and purple flowers rest in above where the leaves start to grow out from the square stem. Motherwort tends to bloom in late May to April, and then again in late summer. Along with the leaves, and flowers, motherwort also has prickly calyxes. These calyxes are the sepals of the flowers that typically enclose the petals in a protective layer around a flower in bud.
Collecting and Cultivation: Motherwort’s square stem lets you know that it is related to mints. This plant’s soft and petite pink flowers resemble the state of a healthy and radiant reproductive tissue. Growing upwards of 10 feet tall, motherwort looks down and watches over other plants living side by side, the first indication of the protective matriarch. Like other mints, Leonurus can be collected in a similar fashion. Collecting in spring time is recommended, in the early stages of its flowering. The aerial parts are collected (everything that grows above ground). While collecting, keep in mind the calyxes are spiky. The plant can be topped for collection, or completely harvested at once. Topping the plant allows the plant to keep producing through the season. Just like mints, Motherwort can grow abundantly and will need pruning to keep it maintained. This plant thrives in moist soil and likes some shade, but can be content in full sun (5).
Parts Used: Aerial parts
Energetics: Bitter, spicy and cooling
Herbal Actions: Nervine, emmenagogue, antispasmodic, hepatic, anti-inflammatory, cardio tonic, hypotensive, uterine tonic, diaphoretic
Historical Uses: The Greeks and Romans used this plant to help treat emotional and physical problems of the heart. In ancient China, motherwort’s reputation was that the plant promoted longevity. In Europe, motherwort was first noticed for the assistance in ridding cattle diseases. British herbalist John Gerard called it “a remedy against certain diseases in cattell…and for that husbandmen much desire it”. Seventeenth-century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper found motherwort to be useful for depression, he wrote, “Venus owns this herb and it is under Leo. There is no better her to take melancholy vapors from the heart…and makes a merry, cheerful soul.”(3)(1)
Modern Uses: Motherwort has a name that gives indication to some of its medicinal properties. Used for uterine and menstrual complaints, motherwort’s antispasmodic and hypotensive actions can be helpful for smooth muscle ailments and parasympathetic cramps. This can be valuable if these symptoms are caused by stress, tension or anxiety. When menstruation is delayed (amenorrhea), call on motherwort’s emmenagogue action to relax the uterus to help stimulate and move the blood flow down and out. Motherwort also has a long history of uses around ovulation pain, menstrual headaches, mood swings, menstrual irritability, and false labor pains. With the plant’s bitter and cooling actions, motherwort is an ally during menopause. When the hormonal cascade is shifting, motherwort can help decrease hot flashes, anger, irritability, headaches, and help stimulate the liver to filter hormones.
Motherwort can also be helpful during and after child birth. When pregnant, this plant can serve as a helper. Herbalists and Midwives throughout history cite applying a motherwort poltice on the lower abdomen to assist throughout labor, and help expel afterbirth. Used in the first 5 days after birth, Motherwort can assist in drainage and can help prevent uterine infection. Because of its uterine tonic properties, it can also strengthen the overall structure of the uterus (5).
In Europe, motherwort has been used as a cardio tonic in households for generations. The plant's effects are commonly intertwined with the thyroid, suppressing thyroid function when the thyroid is in a stressed and overstimulated state. This can be beneficial to people who’s bodies are more impacted by thyroid stress (rapid transit time, sweating, and nervous fatigue), and less prone to adrenaline induced stress (fight-or-flight), or anabolic stress (5). The latin “cardiaca” indicates the plants benefits to the cardiovascular system. According to David Winston, motherwort can also give benefit to people with hypertension that is induced by stress. This type of hypertension is when the blood pressure rises due to stresses like, having an argument, sitting in traffic, failing a test, etc (6). Being an excellent heart tonic, motherwort can support and strengthen without putting strain on the heart. It is indicated for tachycardia (heart palpitations), blood stagnation, lowering cholesterol, and improving the elasticity of the blood vessels.
Personal and Clinical Experience: I have found motherwort to be personally useful for the emotional body. I have called on this plant in times of grief and sorrow. With motherwort being ruled by Leo, and it’s latin name meaning “lion-heart,” the fierce compassion and courage that this plant offers is undeniable. Offering power to a tender heart, this has helped in situations of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), specifically around enhancing mood and calming an overstimulated mind. Motherwort, for me, offers a maternal like calmness that feels like a whole body hug: gentle, nourishing and grounding. In clinical practice, I have seen results in clients who are struggling with stress and high blood pressure. With this plant’s diaphoretic properties, motherwort can help open up the surface of the skin to release pressure in the diaphragm and built up tension. This herb has worked alone and also mixed with variations of herbs like, blue vervain (Verbena hastata), pasque flower (Anemone officinalis), and milky oats (Avena sativa). In cases of high blood pressure, I have mixed variations with nettle (Urtica dioica), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), linden (Tilia sp.), and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), and have found that with a consistent protocol of herbal recommendations and lifestyle changes, client’s blood pressure have dropped within a week.
Dosage and Preparation:
-Tincture: Fresh plant tincture (1:2 at 97% alcohol), dry plant (1:5 at 60% alcohol). A recommended tincture dose is 20-30 drops, 3x a day (5).
-Infusion: 1 oz of dried herb per quart. Put herbs in a jar, pour post boiling water over, cover and let steep for 30 minutes. A recommended dose is 3 cups of tea per day (6).
-Glycerite: Use 55% glycerine and 45% water. Add herbs to the glycerine/water mix at a 1:5 ratio. Simmer herbs in mixture, covered, for 30 minutes. Then strain and bottle (6).
Contraindications: Avoid during pregnancy. If Motherwort is being used for menopause symptoms and after child birth, be aware that it can cause flooding in some people. Motherwort may interfere with cardiovascular medications.
(1) Castleman, Michael, and Sheldon Saul. Hendler. The Healing Herbs: the Ultimate Guide to the Curative Power of Natures Medicines. Bantam Books, 1995.
(2) Easley, Thomas, and Steven H. Horne. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: a Medicine-Making Guide. North Atlantic Books, 2016.
(3) Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal: Complete Volume. Stone Basin Books, 1992.
(4) Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: the Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press, 2003.
(5) Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003.
(6) Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press, 2019.